“One can only give God through radiating him.”
Apparently this was a mantra often repeated by the French mystic Marthe Robin. It is so true! No amount of doing or striving or “getting life right” on my part will ever be able to connect others with Jesus. But if they see him shining through me, it is an entirely different experience!
Some of you may be familiar with a beautiful prayer that is recited every day after Mass by the Missionaries of Charity – the congregation of religious sisters founded by Mother Teresa of Kolkata, now serving the poorest of the poor in 139 countries of the world. The prayer is often attributed to John Henry Newman:
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance wherever I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
that my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me, and be so in me
that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be mine.
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching,
not by words but by my example,
by the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.
I had many Masses with those sisters early on Wednesday mornings during my years in Rome, as I worked on my doctorate. I remember this prayer speaking deeply to my heart, awakening a yearning deep within me to radiate Christ – even if I was blind at the time to some of the obstacles that I was putting in the way.
What does it mean to “radiate” Christ?
Radiating requires a relationship with Christ. It is a way of being rather than a matter of doing. That is so hard for us busy and wounded westerners, who tend to be so focused on doing or achieving or insecurely putting forward a positive image of ourselves.
If we can learn anything from the apostle Paul, we can learn that to be a Christian is to abide “in Christ.” During my doctoral studies, I learned that Paul’s letters use that phrase “in Christ,” or something very similar, 165 times! If I allow myself to be crucified with Christ, to die and come to new life in him, then it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. Paul learned on the road to Damascus that Christ is not just a historical man, but one mystical person, a unity of head and members. Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Not “Why are you persecuting my followers?” but me. Christ and his body are one. Through faith and baptism all our own efforts are put to death and we enter a new, highly vulnerable, highly childlike existence as a co-member of the Body of Christ, together with all the other members of all times and places who likewise humbly depend upon him for everything.
Jesus invites us to abide in him like branches on a vine. It is such an appealing image of what it means to exist “in Christ.” There is a profound unity of the entire organism, and a sense in which we all thrive or suffer together, grow together, and bear fruit together. But there is no question about the order of causality. It is the vine that gives life to the branches, and not the other way around! Our heavenly Father, the true vinedresser, never ceases to graft new shoots into his Son.
Radiating means receiving. Think of a stained glass window. There are so many pieces of broken glass. An isolated pane is nothing to marvel at – particularly if all is darkness! But when assembled by a master artist, and when flooded with the gift of light, what beauty and radiance!
And so it is with Christ and Christians. We are invited to be vulnerable and receptive. That can feel so scary sometimes! It feels so much easier to carve out a familiar way of doing things, in which I can maintain the illusion of being in control. Even though I pray seriously every day, I have often prayed in a way that lacks vulnerability and receptivity, approaching prayer as a “should” rather than opening up my deep desire for God and letting myself ache for him and receive from him.
Even when we let ourselves beg God like a little child, what is our begging like? Do we not sometimes beg him to help us be strong enough so that we no longer need him? It is challenging to abide like little children who depend on him for our daily bread (and keep coming back the next day and the next day). Like those Israelites in the desert, I sure am tempted to store up a bunch of that manna in a jar so that I don’t have to keep feeling so vulnerable and so dependent upon God. Control feels like safety, even though it leaves me alone and miserable.
Little by little, God is assuring and reassuring me that his love is enough and always will be enough. I can open up the rusty gates of my multi-layered fortress and let the King of Glory enter. It doesn’t matter that I still struggle with my insecurities and sins. He will shine, and there will be no doubt whose glory it is that is shining. To be holy is not to be perfect, but to radiate Christ.
We can close with wise words from the Gregory Nazianzen, an early Church Father:
He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven.